Comic Books: What Are We Really Talking About?

You may have noticed that I’m not the most informed person when it comes to the subject of comic news and industry updates. Something will be announced in the comic book world that’s supposedly a big deal. Someone signs an exclusive, or so and so is starting an arc on a book, or something like that. There are several new examples of it every day, and like the 24 hour news cycle of CNN and the like, it all tends to blend together. There have been many times when there will be a question about about some bit of news, or an announcement, and I won’t know a thing about it. I try to keep up, but when it’s all said and done, I just don’t care. A certain partner of mine might reply with, “Don’t you work on a comic book site, and shouldn’t you care?” which might very well be true, but I just don’t. Sure, occasionally, there will be some bit of news that gets my interest, like Brubaker and Epting on The Marvels Project, but for the most part, it doesn’t stick. So yes, I do work on iFanboy, and love comics oh so very much, but really it’s the comics themselves, and the craft I love. As for all that other “stuff” we seem to spend so much time on, I just don’t care.

It’s almost as if the worst parts of entertainment journalism (a hilarious, hilarious term) crept into comics talk, and we spend so much time wondering about why Chuck Dixon doesn’t work at DC anymore. We get questions rather frequently asking about what is going on at the companies, and the best we can ever do is speculate. The truth is, we have no idea what goes on at companies behind their office doors. The best we can do is speculate. But it’s completely unfounded, and in the end, and really doesn’t add anything useful to the overall dialog going on. Does that mean I’ll never be guilty of it? Of course not. Sure I look at Lying in the Gutters from time to time. I do want to work creatively in the industry, don’t I? But trying to second guess editors, and suss out industry ramblings just isn’t for me.

The reason I’m in this game is that I want to talk about comic books and the craft of making comic books. I want to talk about books that made me happy, and figure out why they did that, and how it works. If a book isn’t good, I want to know why I didn’t like, and specify the things that didn’t work. In the process, you learn more and more about the art of comic book creation and become a better reader. Of course, the other side of that is that you develop more discerning tastes, and sometimes get labeled as a “hater of fun.” I know, I thought it was a little harsh too, but what can you do?

Another bit of oddity that’s crept into the realm of comic book coverage is the notion of celebrity. On this point, I think we probably have to share some of the blame (credit?). These people who make comics are treated, in certain parts of their lives, as celebrities. But really, they’re just creative people, who didn’t necessarily sign up for being put on video to talk about their work. But that’s the lay of the land right now. Still, I think it’s better that we treat these people more like movie directors than movie stars, Grant Morrison excepted. Instead, we follow their movements and tweets and start making all sorts of judgments about their careers and techniques, and why a book is late, and who’s to blame and on and on. The work so rarely speaks for itself anymore.

This certainly isn’t to say that talking about comic creators is a worthless endeavor. It certainly is. I love the idea of comic creators as auteurs that we see so often these days. I love talking to creators (Really, Josh? Really?!). I love talking about what goes through a creator’s mind, and how they do it, and what it is to live a life where thinking of story and character is the main focus. The gossip, not so much. It’s an incredibly creative medium, and more than any other leg of the mass media, we have access to the minds behind the stories and art. Honestly, these concepts are the only ones in comics I can claim real mastery over. I’m not an expert in comic book history, or (God forbid) continuity. It doesn’t interest me, and if there’s one thing I learned from my horrid, horrid past day jobs, I suck balls at feigning interest. Also, I’m write pretty classy too it seems.

In truth, this place is pretty good at staying positive as well as talking about the work, but we all end up falling down that rabbit hole of gossip and rumors and speculation and unearned expertise. I figure that if I put some of these thoughts out in the public, it’s more likely that I’ll follow through and save myself from the dreaded hypocrisy. Remember, what is it that you actually like about comics? Is it the behind the scenes stuff that we actually know so little about, or the books themselves and what makes this the greatest, yet most unappreciated storytelling medium there is?  Me, I’m going to keep having fun, but I’m focusing on the work, and what’s on the page, not off it.

 


Josh thinks this whole rambling spiel is going to bite him in the ass at some point, but what can you do?  Also, in case you didn’t see it, Josh completed “Logue’s Patrol,” a short Captain America story done only for practice, and it’s posted over on his blog.

Comments

  1. Criticism re: a work in comics (or some other medium) should be centered on the actual product. However, nothing exists in a vacuum. Ignoirance of the forces that surround an artistic work is no good either. It leads to a narrow degree of dicusssion and insight in conversations & criticisms.

  2. i think I tend to agree (hows that for decisive) but as labor says the industry itself cannot be divorced from the creative work. Think of Jack Kirby; the way he was treated has influenced not only his work, the move to DC fro example, but also how others have chosen to work. Would Gaiman’s Sandman be the work it was if he didn’t go in with an agenda around control, and would he have had that agenda if it wasn’t for a history of how previous creators had been treated.

    Very interesting article and one I will muse upon some more before I put up another rambling, incoherent post. Nice one Josh

  3. What I don’t want is a review based on sale figures. Or whereby the review considers the sales of a book as + or – relative to the work within. Marking the sales of a particualr book, and what that may mean within the industry in a larger sense, is valid.

    As are creative shake-ups and how they inform subsequent works, publishing practices, technique, craft, marketing, format, viability, costs, paper stock, creators’ views, a creator’s body of work in realtion to other works in the industry, blah, blah. All that makes the discussion and critique that much deeper and the conversation that much more worth having.

  4. We only talk about books that crack the top 10.  Ever.

  5. Bravo, sir. Well said.

    Unfortunately, it’s this kind of thinking that focused most of this past presidential election season on one candidate’s middle name and another’s pregnant daughter and not on the issues.

    However, a bit of gossip doesn’t hurt – as long as it isn’t the focus of the commentary on the work.

    That being said, Josh, your Captain America story blows because you’re a douchebag. 😛 (Really, good stuff. Dug the Oeming/Cooke-like art and a nicely paced story – even had a kick to the head. Can’t go wrong with that.)

     

  6. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I don’t understand.  Is Josh quitting?  

  7. Thanks for saying this, Josh.  I enjoy the gossipy bits as much as anybody does, but they’re not what I’m here for.

    You’ve got a real talent for making the points that need to be made.  One of the many things I admire about ifanboy is that I feel like you guys make an active effort to improve the quality of the conversation, instead of just saying, "Well, it’s the Internet, what can you do?"  Thank you!

     

  8. I might be the wrong person to write on this because I’m in comics entertainment journalism, but maybe not.

    I completely agree with what you’re saying, Josh. But I think it’s the way things are now — "Inside Baseball". Once a person gets to a certain level of interest in a medium, they begin to want to know more than about the actual product but how it’s made. Backstage is now face front to people who want to know more than is historically put forward.

    It’s that way in sports, film, and even in government politics. I think the key ismoderation, and like you said, not letting it overpower the work itself. Such as not letting the Alan Moore backstory with his movies get in the way of watching the movie itself. 

  9. That’s an interesting picture of Morrison to say the least

  10. I follow the industry. I make no apologies about it. It’s fascinating to me. I follow it the way other people follow sports (as Chris aptly mentions above). Somewhere along the line, between conventions and meeting creators, it just sort of happened.

    Now, WHY does this happen with so many fans? I think part of it is the size of the industry. Because this isn’t Hollywood, we actually can meet and have a beer with creators, editors, etc. Because it’s small, many of the fans want to be creators, which gives them a vested interest in learning a little about the industry, and that leads down the rabbithole…

    Now, I also love critiquing and discussing the books themselves. The trick is to keep those two things separate. Sometimes its easier than others. I guess you could say I have two hobbies: reading and discussing comic books, and following the comics industry. Both are fun for me on different levels.

  11. I think when you get invested with comic(s), it’s easier to follow the creators on what they are going to do next. With the music, film, or tv industry there is so much rumor and innuendo, and crappy TMZ-style reporting; that we dont know the actual truth of what is going on. With comics however, more often then not a rumor we hear is basically true and following a writer (let’s say Greg Pak) is a snap! Just go on any number of websites (or should I say creditable websites) and you got your information.

    If, let’s say again, Greg Pak was working in the prose industry….we wouldnt know about this new works until the advertisements come up. There arent any cons or interviews you could go to for regular authors. But there’s so many ways to meet a comic book writer, that it can be a snap to get information from the actual source or the company he/she is working at.

    I love talking about anything in general with the industry; critiquing books, talking about the past, and discussing about the future. There is so much to talk about in terms of this industry that it never gets boring; and more importantly, it stays as a hobby for so long. This site in general is more for reviewing and critiquing comics (with some opinion articles and news updates) but there are other sites for just comic book news, and comic book rumors, and comic book discussions, or even just random stuff from anybody. This is the industry where if you become a fan; you’ll be rewarding with information.

  12. I enjoyed the hell out of this very honest rant Josh. I don’t see anything wrong with industry gossiping, it’s part of the hobby now. I personally don’t partake too much because I just can’t keep it all straight. Oddly it was Civil War that cured me of that. I was ALL WOUND up over gossip/shop talk about that and then when I finally read issue 7 I was hugely disappointed. Just too much of an emotional investment I can’t make now. But I only speak for myself of course

     I wouldn’t overestimate the celebrity factor tho…I have friends who loved comics as kids, but when I mention Grant Morrisons name they say "who’s that?"

     

  13. My God, I can’t believe my eyes totally skimmed over the G-Moz picture the first time I read this article.  The scary thing is that I’d SEEN THAT BEFORE. 

    @TheNextChampion  — that’s really not true about ‘the prose industry.’  There are plenty of conventions and conferences where you can meet and talk to authors, and plenty of authors are on the Internet or easily accessible by email.  There’s some other element to comics that makes it a special case (though I’m not sure it’s *that* different from mystery or sci-fi fandom, honestly; anything that’s perceived as a niche has the potential for a similar following). 

  14. I just follow creator tweets because they can be funny as hell, not so much to get insider info or anything like that.  Although I am always afraid that one of them will say something that I totally disagree with and, thus, I will not want to read their work anymore.  But I think they’re all smart enough to not tweet anything that might be taken the wrong way (Excluding Warren Ellis, that guy is nuts!)

    Also, I can now cross "See Grant Morrison in his underwear" off my to-do list

  15. Well said Josh. I don’t feel so bad about not caring for the comic industry gossip. 🙂

  16. Good point, Caroline. You’ve got me thinking. You CAN meet authors, etc., but since the larger publishing industry is larger and covers everything from tell-all biographies to cookbooks, it doesn’t have the same cohesive-yet-intimate sense of community. Everyone reads books; not everyone reads comics. Now, once you break it dow within the genres, you get something closer to comics — fans of  sci-fi, horror, fantasy. And those communities are much closer to the comics industry. But the comics industry… what is it? Is it because it’s a niche within another niche (super-heroes as a sub-genre) that actually has its own independent publication and distribution ecosystem? Maybe because it’s so specifically centered around the publication of comic books (whereas a genre convention could be about ANYthing Sci-fi or horror or whatever) that we actually take an interest in the entire lifecycle… from creation to final sale?

  17. @daccampo–I fear it has more to do with the OCD tendencies we comic fans all seem to share

  18. Good on you Josh, great article. Although, I will always wonder why Bendis doesn’t work for DC.

  19. @Alex — I dunno… I don’t really buy into the OCD argument. I think that’s a cute joke we make, but there are plenty of people I know who love comics but don’t fall into that stereotype. Me, I don’t bag or board. I don’t alphabetize. I’ve been known to curl up a comic and stick it in my back pocket.

    But… I really am fascinated with the industry itself. It really is its own unique little ecosystem, and I find it really interesting. And i’ve followed it for years. After a while it just becomes something you do, like watching the stockmarket or following sports.

  20. You know, the more I think of it, there is something inherent to comics that makes them susceptible to this kind of scrutiny.  It’s a serial medium, and a collaborative medium.  Artists and writers have to work together, for the most part; and, in a lot of instances, they’re working with characters and storylines don’t belong to them, and they don’t have total control of what happens.  So people can be obsessive about the Harry Potter series, for instance, and wonder why the author made certain choices, but ultimately there’s really only ONE person — a single author — responsible for the finished product.  Sure, there are editors, but their contributions are basically invisible.

    On the other hand, if I read ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ and I want to try and figure out why the story looks the way it does, there are several artists and multiple writers to keep track of (I was just thinking about this because of Sonia’s comment about the difference between Byrne’s work when he was and wasn’t being inked by Terry Austin), not to mention the editors who had a major influence on the outcome of the story. 

    None of this is to take away from Josh’s point — the behind-the-scenes stuff shouldn’t overwhelm our ability to appreciate the craft and the story — and we shouldn’t NEED all that to make the experience worthwhile. 

  21. Good article, Josh. But one thing I have to say is… "The Medium is the Message." The content of the comic book doesn’t exist independently of editorial practices, compromise, in-fighting, etc. This might not be true for something like Powers, where there’s direct control, but in the standard "Set-Up" of comics we have now, a story passes through many hands, many offices, many discussions before hitting the page. Like Labor and others point out, in critiquing a comic book, indeed any media, you should also look at motivators. The "gossip" may be crossing a line in some cases (we don’t need to know who fist-fought who at SDCC to critique a story) it is clear that some creators have sabotaged their own work when faced with situations they don’t like. I can’t name any off the top of my head, but I remember reading a few over the years that just read like "Screw you for taking my book away."

    Now, granted, the content is first and foremost, but the trappings of the medium, how and why it is constructed this way, are just as important as the content.

  22. @ohcaroline Good examples there, however, I will say, Rowling only had full control over the books after they became a financial success. There’s a reason that from Book 3 to Book 4 there’s almost a doubling of page count. There’s the terribly bad choice of changing the name of the book to Sorcerer’s stone for American audiences, which was an editorial and publication decision. The bulk of the work was her say-so, but, at least with the first book, I’ve heard her say she had to fight editors who were advising her on making it "More child accessible."

  23. @PraxJarvin  — True, I shouldn’t downplay the influence of editors and publishers, especially when I have no idea what I’m talking about.  I guess what I mean is that the influence is less transparent in most cases.  When there’s a new inker, anybody with an eye for art will probably detect it; when things are going on in other titles or in editorial that affect the direction of a story, that can be fairly obvious as well.

    To throw out a completely different analogy, what if we compare a comics creative team to a band?  Some people can listen to everything their favorite artist puts out and as long as the basic elements are there — the song-writing style, the lead singer’s voice — won’t need anything else.  But if you’re trying to decide whether to see a band on tour or buy the new album, you might be interested in whether they have a new producer, new drummer, different backup singers, or why they left their old label for a new one, or whether they spent last year in a commune in India.  It’s not necessary to follow all that stuff to be a fan, but if you don’t, you might find yourself wondering why there’s suddenly a sitar solo on every track.

  24. Totally not to pick on ohcaroline, but I think this:

    "True, I shouldn’t downplay the influence of editors and publishers, especially when I have no idea what I’m talking about."

    Is pretty much Josh’s thesis.

  25. That picture of Grant Morrison looks…personal?  That’s not from your private stash, is it Josh?

    I too enjoy the craft and look of comics more than the insider stuff.  I can definitely understand people that are into that though, and wish them no ill will.  Mostly, I have so many other things going on in my life that I need to remember that my brain just doesn’t have the space or energy to pay attention to much else.

  26. Heh, no, that’s fair.  At least I admitted it.  😉 The Internet doesn’t suffer from a shortage of self-appointed experts, but opportunities for thoughtful discussion about the comics themselves should be valued.

    Neb: I do NOT know the history behind that Morrison photo, but I remember the first time I saw it was on someone’s blog — I’ve forgotten whose, it was a while ago — listing his favorite things about comics.  One of them was "Grant Morrison in his underpants."  I thought, "I wonder what that could refer to" and clicked on the link.  Really, the classic "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat" scenario.  Nobody to blame but myself.

  27. You know, you can click on the photo to see where it’s from.

    I never said not to talk about the industry and how it works.  It’s a fascinating industry, and deserves study and discussion.  But there’s a limit to how much I can take.  

    And again, most people talking about it know nothing about how things really are.

  28. The distinction is important. There’s talking about what’s going on in the industry, and then there’s deciding what’s going on in the industry using a Magic 8 Ball and your imagination. How many times have I seen some guy sitting in Delaware get on a message board and pontificate on why someone he has never met really decided to leave a book’s creative team? Or why Mark Millar was intentionally letting all his books get behind schedule? Or any number of similar things?

  29. Well stated, Jimski. There’s the discussion of sales, marketing, distribution, the creative and editorial process…. and then there’s "Creator X is playing video games when he’s supposed to be making me my comic books!"

    That sense of entitlement… well, I think it’s partly due to the Internet (giving voice to every errant thought), partly due to the intimate nature of the comics industry ("we’re all part of the same secret club, me and Mark Millar"), and partly just because that’s the nature of the beast… Hollywood has critics discussing, film geeks dissecting the craft and the business, and a whole industry built around reporting on celebrities’ lives.

    At least we can be grateful that there’s no comics paparazzi digging through Geoff Johns’ trash, right?

  30. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Dave – ‘Paparazzi’ implies that the photos being taken are going to a media outlet, right.  If so, then yes.  If not, what I do on my Saturday afternoons is my business as well as the subject of nine scrapbooks and an extensive gallery in my basement.  

  31. @josh  Oh no.  I’m never clicking on anything remotely connected to Grant Morrison’s underwear again.  And seriously, I think your point it great; I was just musing about why the sausage-making part of comics tends to attract that kind of attention. 

  32. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @ohcaroline – There are too many words that should never be near each other…near each other in that paragraph.  

  33. I was scanning the previous post and all that popped out at me was "sausage-making part"

    Awesome.

  34. Move over Stack Week, iFanboy brings you… Sausage Week!

  35. I actually kindda like hearing the goings on behind the scenes. I have always wondered what it would be like working with a group of talented people. Most of my freinds are artist and writers and although I love em all we are a tempermental and fickle group.

  36. Should say, "gossip & rumors" while at times amusing, are pretty ‘whatever’ in the end. News and information about the industry- great, that is part of the dialogue. Dubious rumors about colorist changes…eehhh. Who gives a shit, really.

  37. The definition of "news" probably needs to be re-tweaked.

  38. Re-tweaked and then tweeted upon.

  39. Thanks Josh.

    Lots of good comments on this, too.

    That’s all.

  40. Great article, Josh. I’m not into the back-stage soap opera type stuff, either. I don’t care about all that stuff. All I want to know is, how were my comics this week and what are my favorite creators up to? That’s about it. I can’t keep track of who has exclusive deals, or who is feuding with whom this week, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want good stories and good art, delivered to me in as timely a matter as possible, by creators I enjoy. Anything else is just not interesting to me. 

  41. @PaulMontgomery I noticed that as SOON as I hit ‘submit.’ I knew somebody here would be smart and classy enough to catch it.

  42. Am I the only one that sees Grant Morrison in Underwear? Quite disturbing, but I can’t look away…

  43. I’m with Josh on this.  I rarely know any of the comics book news.

    I’m the same with TV and movies.  I have no interest at all in the private lives of the actors or other creators.  I’m only interested in the craft and result of their work.  Someone at work will ask me what I think about this or that in some actors life and I go "Huh?".

    But I can see why many people enjoy that aspect of things.  Just not my thing.

  44. my favorite part of this article is your final note. you must be a psychic, josh!

  45. Wow, how can I put this in a nice way… hmm, next time use a hyperlink. Thank you.

  46. @danj – What does that mean?

  47. Sorry, that was extremely vague. Great article. I was referring to the Grant Morrison picutre…I’m glad I didn’t open this at work. I actually thought it was Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins at first. lol

  48. But if it gets really nasty and nobody agrees that Jeph Loeb is satan incarnated, we will probably revert to penis size comparison – I think that is a measurement we can all get behind.

    The Aztec calender predicts it will happen in 2012, so it won’t take long, and we need those bizarre comic creator pictures they posted on twitter after inhaling burnt plastic fumes from their computer.

  49. @chlop:….you uh…..you okay there buddy?

    Speaking of this article, did you see the pictures of Grant Morrison on TMZ? Scandelous! 🙂

  50. nice article…pic is kinda scary lol